I recently hosted a dinner party. Not an easy task for me – especially since “Mom” got added to my title – so I planned it all out and made list after list (my husband would call it obsessive, I call it organized and prepared).
Ingredients for a great dinner party (and how it compares to fiction):
– perfect guest list (characters)
– spotlessly clean house (setting)
– menu complete with drinks, allergy considerations and kid friendly food (plot)
The day arrived. Everything was going smoothly – according to plan.
One hour before the guests were due to arrive my husband received bad news from his family overseas. (Characters in chaos!)
Half an hour before the guests were due to arrive my seven year old had a melt down and tore apart the house. (Scene altered!)
Ten minutes before the guests were due to arrive the power went out. (Dinner was in the oven, so this messed up the plot in more ways than one…)
Did our guests have fun? YES
Did I have fun? Well…
There were moments of worry as we lit candles and then tried kept the kids away from them. There was stress as I pulled pasta out of the freezer to cook on the gas stove and raided my non-working fridge for sauce ingredients. Anxiety as my husband and I listened for the phone in hopes of an update on our hospitalized relative. And every time I tripped over a toy I was reminded that I no longer had control of the situation (and I don’t like losing control).
But… was the evening memorable? YES!!
I think the event would have been successful (and I would’ve had a few less grey hairs) if it had gone according to plan. But it wouldn’t have been as memorable. And probably not as fun. It was the unexpected – the extra stress, the extra tension – that made it special.
So, for my next work of fiction I will plan – characters, setting, plot – but I won’t bother with a detailed outline. I will let it unfold in ways that I don’t expect, no matter how hard the task or how grey the hair.
And hopefully the outcome will be special – more special than anything I could’ve planned on my own.
Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012).